Christian Long

Steven Johnson: The Web as a City

In TED Talks on April 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Reflection by SUSAN C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Steven Johnson:  The Web as a City

You know kids who ask a lot of questions that you just can’t answer?

Well, I was one of those kids, and one of the questions that always bothered me most was, “Where is the Internet?”

My parents could never give me an answer that I could understand. They would try to explain that it is in every computer at the same time, but also not. I wanted to know where the “real thing” was. I was convinced that somewhere there was a closet that held a box labeled “Internet” where there was a backup copy of everything.

This TED talk by Steven Johnson has helped me to finally answer my question of, “Where is the Internet?”

He describes the Web as a city. Every computer is like a house in a neighborhood. No single house is the neighborhood, but without the individual houses there could be no neighborhood.

The Internet isn’t in some box, just like the city isn’t some building. A city is every person who lives, works, or plays there. The Internet is every computer, and every person who uses a computer. It is those who spend hours building websites and those who only log on for five minutes to leave a comment on their friend’s blog. It is all of them, but none of them.

Steven Johnson lived in New York City and witnessed the disaster of 9-11. In this talk, he discusses how the city continued to live despite the major blow to its center. People still went out for errands, work, to talk, and basically lived their normal lives.

This is a real-life example of how a city isn’t just one place or building, or even two buildings. It continued to thrive and live, despite a major loss, similar to how the Internet would continue to function and be used if Google, or some similarly major site, crashed. People would continue to use Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, and all of the other unaffected “buildings” that make up this great “cyber city” with no real address beyond www.

A city is everybody and nobody.

The Internet is everywhere and nowhere.

The Internet is one giant, world-wide city in which we all live.


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